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A new method of crushing rocks can help decarbonize construction


Global construction firms are pushing for sustainability and technology is helping them in their quest. Engineers, researchers, and scientists worldwide are finding ways to decarbonize built environments and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

One such effort has led researchers from the University of Strathclyde to discover that crushing rocks, especially polymineralic rocks (rocks with more than one mineral), in Carbon Dioxide results in the trapping of gas in a stable and insoluble form, thus reducing emissions.

The paper, titled Mechanochemical processing of silicate rocks to trap CO2, says that “under ambient temperature conditions, polymineralic rocks can capture >13.4 mgCO2 g−1 as thermally stable, insoluble CO2,” that too at no additional energy. 

The abstract of the paper reads “Milling minerals rich in magnesium and iron within CO2 gas has been proposed to capture carbon as metal-carbonates. We conduct milling experiments in CO2 and show that polymineralic rocks such as granite and basalt, whether high or low in carbonate-forming metals, are more efficient at trapping CO2 than individual minerals. This is because the trapping process is not, as previously thought, based on the carbonation of carbonate-forming metals. Instead, CO2 is chemically adsorbed into the crystal structure, predominantly at the boundaries between different minerals.” 

The paper then goes on to say that “If crushing processes could be conducted within a stream of effluent CO2 gas (as produced from cement manufacture), our findings suggest that for every 100 Mt of hard rock aggregate sold, 0.4–0.5 MtCO2 could be captured as a by-product.”

This process could capture 0.5% of global carbon emissions, which is equivalent to ‘planting a forest of mature trees the size of Germany.’

Rebecca Lunn, a professor in the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and principal investigator talked about the process saying: “The hope is that the sector could reduce the emissions by adapting the current setups to trap carbon from polluting gas streams such as those from cement manufacture or gas-fired power stations.” 

If the technology was adopted worldwide in aggregate production, it could potentially capture 0.5% of global CO2 emissions – 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Future research can pin this down, as well as optimize the process to trap more carbon,” she added. 

In the past, researchers attempted to trap CO2 within individual mineral rocks, but they discovered that this method was unstable, as the CO2 tended to dissolve out of the mineral when it was exposed to water.

Why do we need to decarbonize construction?

The effects of global warming are more apparent than ever. Architecture 2030 reports that out of the total 40% of CO2 emissions generated by the built environment annually, 27% come from building operations, while an additional 13% come from embodied carbon in building and infrastructure materials and construction.

Architecture 2030 reports that out of the total 40% of CO2 emissions generated by the built environment annually, 27% come from building operations, while an additional 13% come from embodied carbon in building and infrastructure materials and construction.

There are different factors contributing to CO2 emissions in construction-

  • On-site transportation of labor and building materials.
  • Cement production.
  • Generation of waste.
  • Burning fossil fuels to generate energy for different operations.
  • Deforestation of land.

For the construction sector to meet its net zero targets, it must eliminate CO2 emissions from building environments. But is it possible? Can we completely decarbonize construction? This goal might sound like a mammoth task, but it is achievable. 

How do we achieve decarbonization in construction?

Previously, we have talked about decarbonizing mobility in construction. By adopting different strategies like carpooling, using EVs and public transport, and planning efficient routes for transporting materials and labor, we can significantly reduce CO2 emissions in construction. 

This breakthrough method of crushing polymineralic rocks with CO2 can also be a game changer in achieving net zero in construction.

Professor Rebecca Lunn says, “In the future, we hope that the rock used in concrete to construct high-rise buildings and other infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and coastal defenses will have undergone this process and trapped CO2, which would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere and contributed to global temperature rise.”

Furthermore, processes like BIM can be deployed to improve building efficiency. Professionals can study 3D models created through BIM to plan sustainable designs for their structures. They can effectively improve quality, reduce costs, reduce waste, and reduce project management through BIM. Firms can increase on improving quality and reducing costs by outsourcing CAD drawings!

Achieving net zero in construction will be a collective effort. We all must play our part to make it possible.

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